The Foundational Skills Of Entrepreneurship Education

by Michael Simmons on Jun 30, 2010

On the college market, there is a lot of interest among students for entrepreneurship. A 2005 poll from Junior Achievement (JA) found that 68.6% of the teenagers interviewed wanted to become an entrepreneur.

What I’ve actually found is that the large majority of students interested in entrepreneurship, are just interested in exploring it for the future rather actually starting now.

With that mind, what do you think should be the foundational curriculum for students who want to just get the tool set now? I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

I’ve narrowed it down to the following:

  1. Mentorship. Traditional and peer mentorship have really been game-changing for me. A good mentor can be the difference between business success and failure. A good mentor can knock off years and even decades from the learning curve. What I’ve learned through talking with students is that most students have never been taught the importance of mentorship or how to attract and build a relationship with a mentor.
  2. Time Management. As I wrote in a recent note on time management, there is a huge difference between time management in school and entrepreneurship. In short, being an entrepreneur requires a completely different way of managing one’s time. Instead of being told what to do, the entrepreneur must be able to prioritize what’s most important overall and on a daily basis.
  3. Goal Setting. Goal setting is very much a skill. It requires setting a vision, knowing your values/strengths/passions, and then working backwards to very specific short-term and daily goals. By far the biggest question I get from students at our events is, “I want to get started, but I have no idea how to!” With the right training in goal setting, people would have a framework to be able to start on very big projects they know nothing about without feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Basic Understanding of What to Expect. A lot of people start businesses to get away from corporate politics or a bad boss, to have more freedom, to increase their earning potential, and to pursue their passion. People don’t realize the challenges, realities, and requirements of being an entrepreneur. Knowing these upfront helps to ensure that the right people start businesses and they keep going through all the ups and downs.
  5. Opportunity Recognition. Seeing opportunities where others see challenges is fundamentally a different way of looking at the world. People who only see challenges have trouble coming up with ideas. People who only see opportunities have more ideas than they can handle. Although, diametrically opposed, the two are actually not that far apart. Identifying problems is actually the first step of opportunity recognition. The business solution to those problems is the opportunity. Finally, training is necessary on what makes an opportunity a good one.
  6. Customer Development. Once you have an idea, it is critical to be able to validate it with potential customers. Fortunately, the customer development process developed by Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur and Stanford professor, gives a systematic way to do this.

In the end, I don’t necessarily think any of the points above are ‘requirements’ for starting business. There are certainly examples of successful entrepreneurs who didn’t understand one or more of these before starting. However, I think they are biggest things a potential first-time entrepreneur can do to minimize ahead of time to minimize the risk of business failure.


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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…